Sports, especially football, are dripping in statistics. People all over the country have become armchair analysts, stat-machines that run the numbers, not just about the players on their favorite team, but also on the third-string running back of the fourth-best team in another division. It’s all because of fantasy football.
“You have control. You are being a puppet master over real decisions. You’re a person of power and that’s why fantasy is so appealing to so many people,” says Yahoo! Sports’ fantasy football analyst Brad Evans, who is co-hosting an event in Las Vegas today to celebrate National Fantasy Football Draft Day.
Fantasy football sunk its teeth into Evans back in 1995 when he would look up box scores in the newspaper and create his own spreadsheet to tally stats by hand. Now, he spits out stats like a machine gun. “Drew Brees has averaged over 5,000 yards and 35 touchdowns since 2007,” he interjects while making a point. “He’s in a passing offense that averaged 658.7 attempts since 2009.” But his delivery isn’t that of a numbers geek. He’s more like a guy you would argue with at a bar, and he invariably ends up being right (but he is not infallible- he was positive that Johnny Manziel would be a Week 1 starter).
But predictions and trash talk is what makes fantasy football popular. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated that 33.5 million Americans age 12 and older played fantasy sports in 2013. Evans has been covering fantasy sports for more than 10 years and is a contributor to Emmy-nominated pre-game webcast Yahoo! Sports’ Fantasy Football Live.
If you email inbox is starting to fill with fantasy football invitations, your office league is starting or your friends and pushing you to get in on the action, then we have your back. Evans provided some tips for success no matter what your level of expertise, be it novice or fantasy football GM.
Tip #1: Throw a Party
Even Evans pulls in a keg with his buddies and hosts a draft party. “There’s a lot of trash talk,” he says. There’s a traveling trophy for each year’s winner. The poor soul that finished last the previous year was forced to down a cement mixer shot, which Evans advises "is absolutely disgusting.”
Tip #2 – Follow the “Zero-Running Back Theory”
The “zero running back theory” suggests investing in your early draft picks in a top-flight quarterback or wide receiver instead of clamoring over an every-down multi-purpose running back. If you’ve got one of the first five picks, backs like Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson and perfect. But because those workhorse running backs are becoming a rarity, it’s more efficient to draft players that are going to dominate their position. Evans says to look at players such at Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham or Demaryius Thomas.
Evans also stressed the importance of proven consistnecy, which means drafting players you’re confident will produce instead of players with big potential.
Tip #3: Forget About “Quarterback Patience.”
“A lot of people emphasize patience at quarterback in our industry. I’m not one of those people,” Evans says.
Evans offers this statistic: “43.3 percent of running backs drafted inside the top 12 have failed to finish there the last five years. So you’re talking about a bust rate of about 50 percent.” Instead, take advantage of an NFL league that has become pass-first by drafting an elite quarterback (ex: Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers) in the first few rounds.
Tip #4: Never Take a Kicker or Defense Until the Last Few Rounds of your draft. Period.
“Kickers are a dime a dozen, highly unpredictable, and with defenses, you can do this thing called streaming,” Evans says. Streaming is when a fantasy player swaps out his defense each week depending on matchups. “Somebody’s got to play the Jaguars every week, right?” Evans cautioned about reaching for the Seattle Seahawks defense because they are available. Instead, seek out defenses that have the best chance to stifle a shuttering offense each week. It’s better to play the probabilities.
Tip #5: Stockpile Running Backs.
If you’ve got five bench spots left, at least three of those should be filled with running backs, Evan says. You need a solid stable. Chances are you’ll end up with a few solid running backs and you always have a chance that someone has a breakout season. “You can just stockpile these guys and hit a lottery ticket and if that lottery ticket cashes, not only do you have depth at running back, but you also have trading material,” he says.
A surefire tactic to success in fantasy football is to scout out a diamond in the rough. Lots of bench players are just one injury away from changing the landscape of your fantasy roster. Here’s a few of Evans’ sleeper picks.
Carlos Hyde (San Francisco 49’ers): He’s a wrecking ball. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry for Ohio State last year and racked up 3,198 rushing yards in three seasons. Playing behind 31-year old Frank Gore in San Francisco, Hyde could get an opportunity to play significant time.
Bernard Pierce (Baltimore Ravens): Everyone thinks Ray Rice is going to be the main guy when he returns from his two-game suspension, but Evans disagrees. Pierce is a perfect fit for the offense in Baltimore, and he will have a chance to prove it in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Brandon Cooks (New Orleans): He’s like Speedy Gonzales, Evans says. He can cut on a dime, he’s got excellent speed and he’s a great route runner. He could be the Rookie of the Year.
Charles Clay (Miami): Evans called Clay “criminally underrated,” before predicting the tight end would catch for 800 yards and 7 touchdowns this season. If you can’t nab Jimmy Graham, pick up a TE like Clay, Jordan Reed or Kyle Rudolph late in your draft.